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The characteristics of U.S. military life are generally well known-deployments, frequent relocation, long and unpredictable work schedules, and so on. But these factors also restrict the ability of service members’ spouses to pursue their own employment or educational interests. This research confirms that, while many military spouses work and seek education similar to their “look-alike” civilian counterparts, they often lag these equals in terms of finding jobs and receiving comparable pay. Why, for example, are military spouses being paid less than their civilian counterparts even when all other observable factors between the two groups, such as educational level, are equal? A team of RAND researchers quantified the differences between military spouses and their civilian counterparts; it then explored the reasons for these differences, based on interviews with more than 1,100 military spouses. The discussions provide an understanding of military spouses’ jobs, their motivations for working, and their general perceptions and struggles with the military lifestyle in relation to career and education. The research shows that many military spouses view elements of military life as a hindrance to their careers and pursuit of education. In response, the researchers recommend, for example, that the Department of Defense increase the affordability and accessibility of education for military spouses, continue to explore child care solutions, and seek positive relationships with local and national employers. In the long run, effectively improving the quality-of-life issues for service members and spouses will help the department retain the qualified personnel it needs.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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